Hellbound; an interview.Jake Farr-Wharton 12 comments
What would you do if you woke up dead? As delightfully paradoxical as that connundrum may be, Tim Hawken takes you on a journey into the afterlife with his new book, Hellbound.
After reading Hellbound, a book which tops my list of un-put-down-able reads, I sat down with Tim to talk Heaven, Hell, and everything in between...
JFW: Tim, Tell us about Hellbound.
TH: Without making it sound like a blub, Hellbound is an exploration of western society’s view on sin, religion and the afterlife. Set in a contemporary version of Hell, the plot centers around the main character, Michael as he journeys through the underworld with Satan as his guide. His attempts to find out what he’s done to deserve to be damned and who he was in life, lead him into a quest for revenge. There’s sex, love, murder, gambling and a few philosophic jokes thrown in for good measure.
JFW: Of course, there are plenty of people who have no belief in hell, much like myself, who will find the themes and settings of your book enthralling, because it is so refreshing. Tell us about hell in Hellbound?
TH: It’s kind of like a cross between Las Vegas, Amsterdam and Bangkok. Terrifying, I know! The biggest difference from traditional versions of Damnation (aside from the modernity of the setting) is that Hell isn’t eternal suffering. It’s more like purgatory, a jail where you have a chance at parole to get into Heaven. You can do whatever you please, but the crushing guilt of your sins is thrust upon you 6 times everyday. This psychological torment is enough to drive many evil souls insane.
JFW: Without giving away too much of the plot, can you tell us about your characterization of God and Satan and the roles they play?
TH: Satan is actually a lot of fun. He has a wicked sense of humour and acts like the prison warden, who is helping nurture souls across to Heaven. However he has multiple faces, so you never really know if he’s telling the whole truth. He is more about good times than wrath and destruction, although his dark side peeks through from time to time.
God remains an intangible parent figure for much of the book, until a guest appearance at the end. The God of Hellbound is a lot like the God you find in the Holy Bible ie wrathful, jealous, spiteful and a joy kill for anyone who wants to have a good time. But, he loves you.
JFW: Perhaps you can settle something for me. I gathered from the book that you were an atheist with a catholic upbringing (mainly because you nailed the whole sin and guilt motif quite expertly), but I’m curious about your own beliefs. Firstly, was I right, are you an ex-catholic atheist, and secondly, what are your views on sin and guilt?
TH: I guess like many people in western society I was brought up with Catholic values and beliefs, but I always thought the stories in the Bible were like the shows I watched on T.V. ie make believe fantasy, which sometimes contain a moral message. When I finally realized people thought that this was the literal truth, I read the Bible from cover to cover and came to the conclusion that it didn’t make any logical sense. While I now lean towards atheism, I’m still what you’d strictly call Agnostic. I don’t know if there’s a ‘god’ or not, and I’m not afraid to admit I don’t know. I’m hoping one day science will provide the answers. If that doesn’t happen before I die, then I guess I’ll find out then…..or just sink into oblivion and decompose into the universe.
As far as my views on sin and guilt, I think if it’s not hurting anyone else, then what’s the problem? Working on a Sunday, having sex with a consenting homosexual partner, eating pork…..all victimless crimes (unless of course you’re a pig). You’ve only done something wrong if you know if your heart that’s it not the right thing to do and you’re truly hurting another person.
We don’t do wrong because of the guilt it causes, or at least because of the social consequences of our actions. If you’re a sociopath, there’s always the law, which for us is thankfully based on morals and ethics rather than a religious text.
JFW: One of the reasons I’ve really enjoyed reading your book is the triviality you effectively place on god’s invention of sin. Effectively, god (and make no mistake listeners, the book is centered around the Judeo-Christian view of god) ends up looking like the petty jealous hormonal teenage girl who gets annoyed when people enjoy themselves too much, so he sends them to hell for eternity. I’m curious why you chose this caricature of god instead of the traditionally all-loving patriarch?
TH: Well, as I said above, I actually tried to depict God as I saw him in the Bible. There are so many stories where people are punished for odd things, like eating a piece of fruit for one. For me, if God did create ‘Man’ in his image as the Bible says, then he passed on some of his personality traits as well, for better or worse. Mine is a God created in Man’s image, and I think that’s more relatable to many people today.
JFW: In my opinion, the book touches on many philosophical and even theological issues, so here is the mighty question of the day; what the hell (pun intended) influenced you to write such a book?
TH: The idea for Hellbound actually stemmed from a literature assignment at university to; Create a contemporary Satan. It was the best mark I ever got for anything. When I decided I wanted to write a novel, I dusted off the paper, which was sitting in the draw and went from there. I’m incredibly interested in religion, philosophy, morality and literature, so it was a logical thing for me to do, write something with themes that interest me.
JFW: Christians and Muslims, the world over, have a completely different view of hell - a place where you rot and burn for eternity – this view is largely dogmatic and has only a very loose scriptural basis but is just as institutionalized as sin. Personally, I prefer the Hellbound view of hell (perhaps because of the lack of gnashing teeth) where it is a place of rehabilitation for the willing. But given that your book’s view of hell is so much different to that of Christianity or Islam, who is this book written for?
TH: It’s for anyone who enjoys thinking and reading really. Whether you are strongly religious or not, there are ideas in there which I believe are universal; good vs evil, and the posing of big questions like ‘how did life begin?’ and ‘what happens after we die?’ If you don’t agree with an opinion, it doesn’t mean it’s not interesting or entertaining. After all, that’s what a novel is for me, it’s entertainment, albeit thought provoking entertainment. I’ll never understand people who take everything so literally or seriously. You enjoy life a lot more if you’re light-hearted and can make jokes about both the big and the little things in life.
JFW: Tim, while I really doubt that anyone truly believes that the pursuit of heaven or avoidance of hell is the only reason Christians are “good people”, what do you think the world would be like without the institutionalized threat of hell?
TH: I think it would be much the same as it is now. Nobody I know, whether they are Christian or not, seem to take the threat of God waving his almighty finger at them saying ‘do this and I’ll spank you’, seriously. The more immediate threat of imprisonment or social alienation is a stronger deterrent in my mind. Maybe the world would be a more peaceful place without religious ideals causing conflict. But then again, maybe we’d simply find other things to kill each other over.
JFW: Here’s a good question, if the religions used your version of hell in place of their current, more abhorrent one, what changes do you think would take place in the religion?
TH: Maybe there would be a stronger emphasis on being good for the sake of humanity, rather than focusing on the ‘sins’. When there is such potent attention on what ‘not’ to do, then people think about that more and wonder if they can get away with it. The way things are structured now you are forgiven for your sins anyway, if you’re attended by a priest on your deathbed and repent. You can live a complete bastard of a life and still go to Heaven if you check in with the clergy on time. I think that’s bullshit. Take responsibility for yourself and your actions instead of using Jesus as a proxy sin-taker.
I’d like to think that if there is a God, that he’d give us a second chance and forgive us for our mistakes. After all, we’re only human and he created us this way.
If you'd like to win a copy of Hellbound, all you need to do is to tell us your favorite sin (post in comments below).